On Jan. 24, Cal Poly Athletics announced Sara MacKenzie as the new director of Strength and Conditioning. MacKenzie is one of two women who hold the position of director of Strength and Conditioning for NCAA Division I schools with football programs.

“It feels awesome,” MacKenzie said. “There’s a ton of other women who hold this position in other capacities, but they’re not overseeing a program that has football too, so it’s really cool to not be ruled out.”

MacKenzie, who has been working for Cal Poly since 2011, started her career with the Mustangs as a coaching assistant for the Strength and Conditioning program. The new director said she grew relationships with student-athletes and learned from them as well, eventually transitioning into a full-time assistant strength and conditioning coach in 2013.  

Cal Poly Women’s Basketball junior guard Jonni Smith is just one of the many student-athletes who said they have gotten to know MacKenzie well.

“We all love Sara,” Smith said. “She’s always really pushing us and always in there trying to get us stronger. She deserved this more than anyone else I know. She’s been working really hard for it.”

Video by Sawer Milam

Smith continued to rave about the positive influence MacKenzie has had on female Cal Poly student-athletes.

“Our team, especially our head coaches and me myself, are all about women empowerment, so I just think it’s super awesome to see Sara and see her doing that,” Smith said. “She’s a great inspiration and someone I can look up to as well.”

MacKenzie’s role as director of Strength and Conditioning entails overseeing student-athletes from football, baseball, volleyball, beach volleyball, softball, women’s soccer, men’s tennis and men’s and women’s basketball and golf teams.

[MacKenzie] sets up our workouts, runs us through our conditioning and also comes in to work with us on speed and agility,” Smith said. “I definitely think I got a lot stronger, and I think a lot of other people did, too. And that’s really important in basketball — just making sure we’re staying explosive.”

Cal Poly Wrestling senior Tom Lane said he has also grown to know MacKenzie well over his last four years at Cal Poly.

“She puts time and effort into our team when she [does not] have to,” Lane said. “She helps with weight cutting and dieting and everything — she’s a big part of that. She makes sure we keep our strength all season long.”

While MacKenzie’s day-to-day duties may follow suit to others in her line of work, there is nothing conventional about the way she coaches.

“I have a different coaching style than a lot of coaches,” MacKenzie said. “There’s a lot of people in this position that feel like they have to be kind of cool or standoffish and yell a lot or whatever — and while I do do a little bit of yelling, I like to develop relationships.”

MacKenzie said she takes pride in watching her student-athletes grow and succeed. She said she loves to watch players progress from sitting on the sideline to being on the starting lineup, and she explained how watching her student-athletes grow is her “favorite thing.” MacKenzie said she hopes to keep her student-athletes healthy, increase their strength and help grow their confidence.

MacKenzie continued to explain how the relationships she builds with her student-athletes is key to their success.

“I believe that if they believe in you and what you’re doing, if you have their best interest in mind, then that really does help foster a really good relationship,” MacKenzie said.  “If you build that with the upperclassmen, then the younger kids follow suit, then before you know it, you have a whole team that believes in what you’re doing.” 

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